When Jonathan Adler was 12 years old his parents sent him to camp expecting him to return tanned and toned from two months of swimming and sports. “Instead, they found a pasty potter who had spent the summer in the pottery studio completely obsessed,” jokes Adler. “I came back changed.”
Within a year Adler convinced his parents to buy him a pottery wheel and kiln. “My father was a lawyer, but he spent every spare moment painting and sculpting in his studio in our basement. My parents totally understood my creative drive,” Adler says, revealing why his parents were willing to believe that his newfound passion was something more than a whim. “The only hurdle was convincing my mother that I would not get clay dust all over our white wall-to-wall carpet.”
Adler’s parents might have been exceptionally supportive, but they might never have predicted Adler’s incredible success as a potter, designer, merchandiser and judge on the Bravo reality series Top Design. Even he never thought it would be a career. He studied semiotics and art history at Brown University, and after college he began working in the movie business.
“I was a horrid employee,” Adler says. “I got fired from every job.” During this unemployment Adler made pots, and as his employment prospects dwindled he found himself making more and more. “I finally showed them to a buyer at Barneys and got an order, and then got another,” he explains. “It just grew organically.”
After several years of working feverishly Adler realized he needed help. That’s when he discovered Aid to Artisans, the nonprofit organization that connects designers with artisans in developing countries. He established a relationship with a workshop in Peru. “By freeing myself from production I was able to have a creative explosion,” Adler says. This also gave him the time to open a store in New York City that carried ceramics and textiles, a medium that he’d fallen in love with in Peru.
Since then Adler, who still considers himself a potter above all else, has expanded to an entire line of interior design merchandise and opened 10 other stores. “Hardy Amies was once asked why he dressed the queen of England in colorful and approachable ensembles rather than high fashion,” Adler explains in reference to his style. “Amies replied, ‘There is an unkindness to chic, and the queen must never appear unkind.’ My mission in life is to achieve the impossible and combine chic design with happy design.”